Is it a coincidence that May's latest controversial announcement came straight after Paul Dacre's lavish 25th anniversary celebrations?by Patience Wheatcroft / November 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
The day after attending the lavish party to celebrate Paul Dacre’s 25 years as editor of the Daily Mail, Theresa May announced that she was enshrining Britain’s departure date from the EU in the legislation now going through Parliament. Perhaps the timing is mere coincidence but the prime minister listens to no one more intently than she listens to the man who, only last month in a Mail editorial, accused the Chancellor of “treachery.”
Her decision to party with the hard-right Dacre, just hours after a second Cabinet minister had resigned and her government appeared to be imploding, was a clear demonstration of how Mrs May is in thrall to—or in fear of—the tabloid. Her declaration the following day that at 11pm on March 29, 2019 the UK’s membership of the EU would end and she would not “tolerate” any attempt to block Brexit is exactly what Dacre would want to hear.
Yet it is complete madness. No judge would set a date for declaring a decree absolute in a divorce case before the terms of that divorce had been agreed. In the meantime, efforts to achieve a reconciliation can continue—for the sake of the children, perhaps.
The Prime Minister, however, is shrieking that Britain will leave, with or without a deal and the Daily Mail rejoices. It is “the will of the people,” runs the government mantra; but diving headlong into economic disaster was not what the public voted for in the referendum and is certainly not what they would vote for now. Day by day, the evidence mounts of how the UK is already losing jobs and investment because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the declaration of a deadline can only exacerbate that.
A tiny majority voted in favour of “taking back control” but, whatever their motivations then, the people of the UK are now losing control of the country’s future. Instead, it is being seized by a group of rabid Brexiteers intent on over-riding genuine democracy. They insist that the country is on a route from which there is no going back.
This madness cannot go unchallenged. Lord Kerr, the former UK ambassador to the EU, insists the public is being misled and the country could, if it wished, withdraw its notification to quit the EU under the Article 50 process. Since he was instrumental in drafting the Treaty that gave us Article 50, he should know. “As new facts emerge, people are entitled to take a different view,” he says. “And there’s nothing in Article 50 to stop them.”
It is now clear that fiction rather than fact played a large part in the referendum. Dominic Cummings, the campaign director for Leave, admitted in The Spectator that the promise of £350m per week for the National Health Service “was necessary to win.” Now the chief executive of the NHS has challenged the Government to deliver the cash. “The NHS wasn’t on the ballot paper but it was on the battle bus,” he argues.
But the money won’t be there. Apart from the bill of up to £50bn, still being haggled over, to be settled on departure, the loss to the Exchequer from the financial services sector, already drifting out of the country, will be heavy. Other sectors, including pharmaceuticals and automotive, have also made clear that if the UK is not in the single market, then they will have to move operations.
Workers who voted to leave were not voting to lose their jobs and endanger their offspring’s future. It is the job of Parliament to look after the people and its members, in both houses, would be failing in their duty if they did not endeavour to secure the best deal for the country, whether it be in or out of the EU.
Mrs May has effectively said that she will not tolerate Parliament doing what it should and she will attempt to railroad it into agreeing with her timetable for leaving the EU. Amidst the allegations of bullying which now pervade Westminster, this must be the most egregious of all and has to be resisted.
Parliament has been promised a vote on the final deal but only on the basis that it is accepted or the country crashes out of the EU without a deal. The imposition of the deadline is tantamount to an attempt to render even that smidgeon of democracy worthless. Instead, Parliament must have the chance to say neither option is acceptable and heed the words of Lord Kerr. Relationships will have been damaged in the meantime but the likelihood is that the prodigal would still be welcomed back into the EU fold.
The prime minister may be fearful of how the Daily Mail and its editor would respond to that but she needs to take heed of a wider audience. Ironically, it maybe the— undemocratically—appointed House of Lords that has to take a stand and insist that Parliament, on behalf of the people, has the final say on this crucial issue. The Lords cannot, ultimately, frustrate the will of the Commons but it can, and must, try its utmost to persuade the Government to do what is right. A majority of Conservative MPs did not think it was right to leave the EU and they must surely believe that rushing out of the door on a particular date without having secured the future of the country would not only be foolhardy but tantamount to treachery.